Author Archives: af

Girl Scout Closing Circle

Main Piece:

What is the Girl Scout Closing Circle?

“At the end of the [girl scout] meeting, you stand with your hands crossed, you hold hands, you sing Taps once and them hum the tune until we’re done. Someone starts a squeeze, they squeeze the hand of the person next to them, and they stick their foot towards the center of the circle and make a wish. Then the next person’s hand gets squeezed and then they put their foot in and make a wish, and it goes all the way around the circle. And then you turn around and untwist your hands, and then the meeting’s over.” 

Context:

The informant is my mother. She was a Girl Scout during her childhood, and then she became a Girl Scout Troop Leader. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.

Analysis:

As a Girl Scout, I participated in the Girl Scout closing circle. It is a universal Girl Scout tradition, seeing as we would do it at the end of large Girl Scout events that included more than just our troop. The Closing Circle ends the meeting in a positive way. Holding hands unifies us as a Girl Scout community, and we through linking up we support each other and our wishes. The sticking out of the feet acts as a marker for how fast the process is moving, and is a visual signal to the troop leader for when to end the song. Taps is a traditional song that has been sung by Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and has its roots in US Army traditions. 

Bread and Salt for new homeowners

Main Piece:

What is the tradition?

“It’s Jewish tradition when someone has a new house to bring bread and salt. Actually, I don’t think that’s it’s a Jewish tradition, I think it’s just a housewarming tradition because that sounds very Christian, like bread for Jesus, and salt for demons… I don’t know (laughs). Bread is so… for you’ll never go hungry and salt is for you’ll always have flavor, and [jokingly] won’t die from lack of electrolytes. It’s become a thing amongst a lot of ethnic groups within the country.” 

Have you ever brought bread and salt as a housewarming gift?

“Yes! We brought some bread and some salt to, I don’t remember. Over the years, I’ve done it, maybe three times? A handful of times. Bring a thing of Morton’s salt and a loaf of bread, or maybe a sack of flour so it’s actually useful.”

Context: 

The informant is my mother. She is was raised Conservative Jewish and has an Ashkenazi (Easter European) Jewish background. She has lived in America her entire life. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.

Analysis: 

I found it interesting that my informant couldn’t identify which religion this practice came from, and then decided that it didn’t matter. This highlights how engrained this tradition is in American housewarming culture. I thought that my informant’s alteration of bread to flour was very utilitarian. I’ve seen other alterations of this tradition, like a Trader Joe’s body scrub set that features one salt scrub and one sugar, bur bread themed, scrub. This tradition has become such a norm that even large commercial producers are adopting a version of it they can sell as housewarming gifts.

Pui Pui: Spitting the words off of your lips

Main Piece:

What does Pui Pui mean?

“It’s like ‘get the words off your lips,’ kind of a purification thing, but it’s also about spitting. It’s like when you don’t’ want to jinx something, like ‘I hope I start feeling better soon, pui pui pui.’ It’s so the evil eye… to get rid of the evil eye, and it’s an Ashkenazi Jewish thing. Plus there’s hand motion associated with it! You kinda flick your hands like you’re getting rid of something, though all of the old people point their hands instead. I guess it can be spelled ‘ptui ptui’ like spitting, but the real question is how is it spelled in the original Yiddish (laughs)?” 

Context: 

The informant is my mother. She is was raised Conservative Jewish and has an Ashkenazi (Easter European) Jewish background. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.

Analysis: When explaining Pui Pui to people who have never heard of it before, I often call it the Jewish “Knock on wood.” My entire family uses it as a replacement to knocking on wood whenever we don’t want to jinx something. Most Jews I’ve met have never heard of this saying, and those who have heard of it have strong ties to Eastern Europe. The combination of the spitting sound and the flicking hand motion are reflective of sympathetic magic practices, and it’s as if miming spitting the words off of your lips will actually prevent them from having been spoken. 

The Zorch

Main Piece:

What the heck is the Zorch?

“I think it was done on Tisha’b’av, inside the bunk, they [the counselors] would, before bed, they would turn off all the lights and hang dry cleaning plastic, you know what you wrap with, whatever that’s called, hang it from a lamp on a hanger, roll it down to make a column and would light it on fire. And underneath would be a bucket of water, like a white bucket of water, and the bits of melted plastic would fall into the bucket and *floom* [fire noise] light it up! They don’t do it anymore (laughs).”

What was the purpose?

“To scare the crap out of the little kids? (laughs) I have no idea. I think it happened on Tisha’b’av because it was sort of spooky, and um… it was almost like a ghost story kind of thing. Sadly, I don’t remember the story associated with it.”

Context: 

The informant is my mother. She is Jewish and attended and worked at a Jewish summer camp for most of her childhood. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other. Tisha’b’av is a Jewish holiday that recounts the destruction of the Second Temple. The date of Tisha’b’av also happens to overlap with the day the Jews were banished from Spain. It is a day of mourning, so observant Jews fast (don’t eat or drink) and adopt a solemn mindset during this day. 

Analysis:

While I have never experienced the Zorch, I have been at this specific Jewish summer camp during Tisha’b’av, and it seems like there would be no better day suited to telling a scary story with scary visuals to match. Tisha’b’av is very different from a normal day at camp, and anything out of the ordinary has exponentially more impact on campers on this day compared to any other day. All of the activities are somber, and the content of discussion throughout the day is the destruction of our people. If I had experienced the Zorch, I would have been very spooked. The fact that this doesn’t happen anymore reflects the general trend of camp administrations changing rules to value the physical and mental safety of their campers. 

“One man always lies” Riddle

Main Piece:

“Ok, wait, so you’re in a prison, there’s two knights guarding two doors. One always tells the truth and one always lies. One of the doors leads to your freedom, and one leads to instant death. What is the one question you ask to get to freedom? You can only ask one question to one of the knights.”

“So the answer is “Which door would the other knight say leads to freedom?” Because if you ask the knight who tells the truth, they would point to the door that leads to death because that’s the door the liar would point at, and if you ask the knight who lies, they’ll lie and say the knight who tells the truth will point at the door that leads to death. Either way, you’ll be able to figure out which one leads to freedom.”

Context:

 The informant is my friend. He is a sophomore at UC Berkeley and is Jewish. He has been sharing riddles with me since high school. This information was collected during a FaceTime call. 

Analysis:

This is a very classic riddle that embodies the concept of “multiplicity and variation.” I have heard versions of this riddle that take place at a fork in the road, in a basement, and even in space! This riddle is even featured as a part of the plot in the movie Labyrinth. Even though the setting of the riddle changes, the core stays the same. There is always one person who lies and one person who tells the truth. Additionally, no one knows where this riddle originated, which further cements this riddles place as a part of folklore. 

Keartes, Sarah. “How to Beat the LABYRINTH Two-Door Riddle.” Nerdist, Geek Sundry, 14 Jan. 2016, 4:30 pm, nerdist.com/article/how-to-beat-the-labyrinth-two-door-riddle/.